Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MARCH 6, 2009
Adolescence. The mere word calls up a flurry of conflicting images – joy and anguish, identity and uncertainty, first love and burgeoning sexuality. Two smart, darkly comic English dramas explore those seminal developmental moments – in the lives of boys’ school students and one lonely, unhappy girl.
The award-winning 2003 play, “The Sugar Syndrome,” was a provocative debut effort by 22 year-old Lucy Prebble , who took on a couple of hot-potato topics: bulimia and pedophilia. A pair of compulsives, decades apart in age, meet in an internet chatroom. Both have been sent away to undergo treatment — that hasn’t really worked. Seventeen year-old Dani , a bit on the wild side, is intrigued by her new friend, and ignores, as does her mother, the awful realities of a serious problem. Dani has also struck up an online and in-person sexual relationship with geeky Lewis, while avoiding her narcissistic mom, who’s distracted by the infidelities of her husband. Through acid-laced laughter and a shocking revelation, we learn that not all dysfunctions are alike, or fixable.
Backed by a symbolic, geometric array of metal fences, barriers and boundaries, a marvelous cast, under the muscular direction of Moxie Theatre co-founder Jennifer Eve Thorn, nails the nuances and shifting sympathies of this disturbing theater piece.
Also guaranteed to make you cackle, squirm and think is Alan Bennett’s marvelous, Tony Award winner, “The History Boys” which, several years ago, was named Best Play by every imaginable theater group in New York and London . The brilliantly written story about teaching and learning, growing up and moving on, is set in a fictional boys’ school in Northern England . It’s the 1980s, and Bennett is skewering Thatcherism and the onset of spin. But the question of “teaching to the test” also smacks strongly of our own ‘No Child Left Behind.’ At the center of the pedagogic debate is an inspiring, iconoclastic instructor who believes in learning just for the sake of knowledge and expanded horizons. He’s pitted against a young maverick who’s brought in to prepare the lads for their Oxbridge entrance exams, disdaining fact in favor of creating a compelling and unexpected argument in their essays.
The cultural references in the text fly as fast as the furniture during the sprightly set changes, in the dynamic and outstanding Cygnet Theatre production. Sean Murray directs an exceptional cast, each creating a robust and memorable character, displaying talent for singing and piano-playing as well as drama. In a hormone-infused atmosphere, comedy and history take a sharp turn toward tragedy. It’s a thrilling, brain-teasing, neck-snapping ride.
Both these first-rate productions will excite and provoke you – and make you oh so glad you’ve grown up.
The Moxie Theatre production of “The Sugar Syndrome” runs through March 8, at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest.
“The History Boys” continues through March 29, at Cygnet Theatre’s new venue, the Old Town Theatre.
©2009 PAT LAUNER